A new CNN poll finds that climate change is the most pressing issue on the minds of Democratic voters. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents told CNN that they think it’s very important that the Democratic candidate for president support taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change. Not even universal healthcare garnered a “very important” rating from that many prospective voters.

A number of Democratic candidates are making climate change a signature issue of their campaign. Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have all outlined plans.

“I think that the current data suggests — and certainly the behavior of current candidates for the Democratic nomination strongly suggests — that this will be the first national election where climate change ends up playing a major role,” said Ed Maibach, a university professor at George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication.

Over the past five years, Americans’ understanding of climate change has transformed. Previously, most Americans viewed it as a distant problem, one likely to affect ecosystems or other people in other places, sometime in the future. Now, Maibach says, polling shows that about half of Americans understand climate change as a “here-now-us problem.”

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only Democrats who are concerned about climate change and want to see some sort of government action, Maibach said..

“Actually, the bigger divide is not between liberals and conservatives, it's between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans,” he said. “The majority of moderate Republicans actually do accept that climate change is happening and are growing increasingly concerned about it.”

What’s more, Maibach says there’s an under-recognized consensus among Americans across the political spectrum that we should be pursuing policies that move us away from a fossil fuel-based energy system and toward a cleaner, renewable energy system. That includes emissions-limiting regulations, carbon pricing, investment in renewable energy research and development, and incentives for solar panel and electric car adoption.

“Almost regardless of the policy, and almost regardless of how we ask the question, it's generally about seven out of 10 Americans who say that they support climate solutions,” Maibach said. “And the really surprising thing is that there is less of a divide between conservatives and liberals on support for climate policy than there is on support for whether or not human-caused climate change is even happening.”

Once a specific policy proposal enters the political arena, though, public opinion can shift based on who is touting it and who is attacking it. A prime example is theGreen New Deal. In December, the pollsters asked about the concepts that would become the Green New Deal: the goal of growing the economy by transitioning to renewable energy, and the goal of generating all of the nation’s electricity from renewables within 10 years. Before the Green New Deal was announced, these concepts enjoyed the support of eight out of 10 Americans, including over half of Republicans surveyed.

But Maibach says they have new data showing that Republican support has dropped since the Green New Deal became the target of criticism from conservative politicians and media outlets.

Still, Maibach says that public sentiment has reached a point where climate action is likely to be a vote-winner — not only for Democratic candidates, but also for Republicans, especially those interested in appealing to younger conservatives. That means we’re likely to hear a lot more on the topic in the next 18 months, Maibach said.